ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (Sept. 21, 2013) – The F Production race at the 50th SCCA® National Championship Runoffs® promised to be a prize fight between the three top qualifying cars. Mark Carpenter, of Charlotte, N.C., finished out front for his second career National Championship, followed by Eric Prill, of Topeka, Kan., and Kevin Ruck, of Delaware, Ohio.
Carpenter officially led all 13 laps and 52 miles of Saturday’s race, averaging 93.378 mph and winning by 1.823 seconds. In this case, the box score doesn’t tell the story of the race.
The No. 30 GGS Technical Publications Acura Integra piloted by Carpenter didn’t get the start that he had planned from the SafeRacer pole, but had recovered enough to hold the lead through the first turn. Prill’s No. 7 Jesse Prather Motorsports/Hoosier/Hawk Mazda Miata pulled alongside the leader from the second row up the front straight to the inside, while Charlie Campbell’s Miata moved outside of Ruck from the same row.
Exiting the corner and down the hill to turn five, the running order was Carpenter, Prill, Campbell’s No. 89 Hoosier/Jesse Prather Motorsports Mazda Miata, and Ruck’s No. 73 Hoosier/Honda Performance Development Acura Integra. Ruck drove deep to the inside of Campbell in turn five, slotting in behind Prill, and the three eventual podium finishers moved ahead of the field.
Carpenter would lead flag-to-flag for his second career championship, even with his mirrors full of his two closest competitors. Brake smoke from the right rear tire of the championship Acura didn’t slow Carpenter, who was making his first Runoffs appearance since his last title in 2009.
“Our decision to go racing didn’t happen until June of this year,” Carpenter said. “It’s a little different feeling this time around. In such a short period of time, my guys did a great job getting the car together, even on the trailer, to get it out of the garage. I was tripping over it in my garage for two years. It’s definitely a different feeling.
“A lot has happened over the last few years of my life. Things are changing constantly, and even though I’ve been out of the driver’s seat, I’ve still been at the track. People don’t realize it, but I’ve been working in pro racing [as an engineer] for the last couple of years. I’ve learned a lot of things at the track, actually, that have helped my driving. There’s a lot I’ve picked up on. It’s different this time around, but it feels just as sweet as 2009 for sure.”
Ruck’s power up the front straight to begin lap two put the pair of Acuras back up front. Prill’s Miata pulled right to the tail from turn five through turn 14, and the Acuras gained an ever so slight advantage on Road America’s long straights. Even with the differences in the two makes of cars, lap times were nearly identical.
As if to display those differences on lap seven, Prill moved around Ruck for second in Canada Corner, but Ruck powered back past up the front straight.
The scenario replayed itself again on lap 11, beginning with Prill making the GoPro Hero Move of the Race on a pass to the outside around the Carousel.
By the final lap, Ruck’s Acura didn’t want to go into fourth gear. Prill, in a reversal of fortune, pulled Ruck up the front straight and into second place with four miles to go. Prill also turned the Hawk Performance Hot Lap on lap nine, running a lap of 2:33.091 (94.062 mph).
The podium finish is the third for Prill, who also serves as the SCCA VP of Marketing and Communications.
“I really enjoyed myself,” Prill said. “I came here this year with two goals – one to win the pole, and that didn’t happen, and one to win the race, and that didn’t happen – but I still have a smile on my face, because I had a good time. I think I did the best I could do. And congratulations to these guys, because they did a great job.
“I’m in a unique position to see people win these things all the time, and I know the effort that goes into it. I don’t think Tony Kanaan, who won the Indy 500 this year, could even experience the same thing that a guy like Mark Carpenter could experience today, something that Kevin has experienced. You know, club racers are the chief engineer, the engine builder, the driver, the guy that drives the truck to the track, that loads the trailer. We all have dirt under our finger nails and busted knuckles. This is truly something amazing to what Mark has accomplished today. I’d like to keep trying to do it.”
Ruck’s podium was a bit of a surprise, as he almost missed the event after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle crash in August.
“I wrecked my motorcycle about a month ago,” Ruck said. “I took a hard hit, and pretty much had a dead arm for a couple of weeks. I cracked a couple of ribs. Luckily, my doctor knew what my timeline was, and rather than do more MRIs on the shoulder that was damaged, we went straight to physical therapy. It was only about two or three weeks ago that I knew I would even have a shot at being here. But both of these guys were keeping in touch with me, asking if I would be there, so that meant a lot.”
After a big start where he moved ahead of Ruck, Campbell settled in and ran in fourth place for the entire race.
Bill Hingston’s No. 08 Little Bill Racing/MAZDASPEED Mazda Miata moved around Sam Henry’s No. 37 Springfield Dyno/SafeRacer/Hoosier Mazda Miata for the final time in Canada Corner following a back and forth battle for fifth.
Joe Walker moved up 12 positions from the start in his No. 5 Walker Racing/Hoosier Tires Lotus Super 7 to finish seventh. Gerald Lamb, David Strittmatter and Michael Froh completed the top 10.
Paul Jensen’s No. 88 Hoosier/MAZDASPEED/DIY AutoTune Mazda Miata earned the Sunoco Hard Charger for improving 14 positions to 18th.
The 50th SCCA National Championship Runoffs®, The Pinnacle of American Motorsports, crown Sports Car Club of America’s Club Racing National Champions at Road America, Friday, Sept. 20 through Sunday, Sept. 22.
Follow all the live timing and scoring and get results at www.scca.com/runoffs. Live Twitter stream is available @SCCALive. Follow this weekend’s races on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SCCAOfficial.
The live broadcast of all 28 National Championship races will be available through Sunday at www.SpeedcastTV.com/scca and later available On Demand from the same site.